When Is the Optimal Time For Programs to Encourage Girls to Consider STEM Fields?

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois finds that occupational interests between males and females tend to diverge during early adolescence. But later in life these differences in vocational interests tend to decrease. Thus, the researchers believe that the optimal time for gender diversity efforts to encourage more girls to enter male-dominated fields is in late adolescence, not earlier.

More than 20,000 people ranging in age from 11 to 42 were included in the study, which was led by Kevin A. Hoff, a doctoral student in industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Illinois.

“Children’s interests in basically everything plummets during early adolescence,” Hoff said. “If we want to spark kids’ interest in careers, it may be best to wait until late adolescence – when they’re in high school, for example – and their interest levels increase again.”

The same might be true for gender-diversity programs seeking to attract females to male-dominated fields, Hoff said. These programs might have greater success if their outreach and recruitment efforts targeted females in late adolescence, when girls’ interest in realistic activities begins to rise.

The study, “Normative Changes in Interests From Adolescence to Adulthood: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies,” was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin published by the American Psychological Association. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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